Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Yeah, Sure — If Thinking "Outside the Box" Means You Don't Have to Do Your Fucking Research

i'm a tool

"He's just a very interesting thinker. He thinks outside the box, has a very distinct worldview and I think he'll be a lot of fun. . . . He'll be writing about stuff in ways that no one else on our team does."
— Gail Collins, NY Times editorial editor 2 March 2005

Gail Collins' praise to the contrary (and while I'm thinking about it, did she actually use the phrase "outside the box?"), John Tierney's columns in the New York Times have thus far offered the sort of oversimplified, saccharine-populist mooning that David Brooks has claimed as a genre unto himself. It's almost making me yearn for William Safire to come out of retirement. Last week, Tierney served up a fact-free parable about the merits of Chile's privatized pension system. (Details and critiques here and here.) This week, Tierney continues his Bobo-licious mimickry by explaining why so many "Blue State" types just don't understand last week's triumphant comic stylings of Laura Bush. The First Lady, who killed like Seinfeld buffoon Kenny Banya at a White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, has been lofted upon on the shoulders of cable news for her saucy jokes about male strippers, the president's early bedtime, and horse schlongs. Writes Tierney,
Her timing had the audience howling, and the edgier lines had them gasping. Jokes about pent-up sexual frustration from a prim librarian? With her born-again husband sitting there and enjoying it? And cameras recording it for Republican preachers who are determined to get sex out of schools and off television?

. . . The coverage of Mrs. Bush's comic debut may change some minds, but for devout Bush-bashers, it's much easier to stay the course. If you live in a blue-state stronghold, a coastal city where you can go 24 hours without meeting any Republicans, it's consoling to think of the red staters as an alien bunch of strait-laced Bible thumpers.
As for these deluded snobs, Tierney continues, they'll continue to believe that middle-class Americans are "yahoos" and "zealots" who vote Republican in defiance of their own economic interests. But Tierney — and the great, warm, libertarian mass of common-sensical America — knows better.
[M]iddle-class Americans don't simply cast ballots for Republicans. They also vote with their feet, which is why blue states and old Democratic cities are losing population to red states and Republican exurbs. People are moving there precisely because of economic reasons - more jobs, affordable houses and the lower taxes offered by Republican politicians.
Now, I'm no demographer, but this sounded just a bit too simple to withstand scrutiny. Every US historian knows that population trends in the United States have been streaming toward the West and South since World War II and the onset of defense Keynesianism (i.e., massive federal spending on "national security"), which has continued to underwrite the economic vitality of the Sun Belt ever since. These population trends, however, did not take on a strong political tone until the rise of the New Right after about 1964. By the 1970s, the Southern and Western states emerged as the new geographic base for the Republican party, now comprised of dependent individualists who wanted "The Gum'mint" to build their roads, develop and protect their industries, keep their military bases open, and leave them the fuck alone. Meantime, the older industrial regions lumbered along, losing their (white) population and tax dollars as those left behind in the midwest and northeast subsidized the Southern Renaissance, which would indeed be quite Republican in character.

So yes, generally speaking, these kinds of demographic trends are useful for anyone wishing to understand the many dimensions of the 40-year conservative counter-revolution that preoccupies us so. But is the US really like Cold War Berlin, with residents of the Blue states fighting to get out rather than get in? Not according to the US Census Bureau, which has all sorts of great information — you know, charts and maps and shit — that people like Tierney have to ignore in order to float along on their raft of platitudes, guided (like Elian Gonzalez) by divine porpoises to the shores of Red America. In this short little .pdf file, for instance, we learn that of the 22 states that lost population between 1995-2000, twelve voted Bush/Ghraib in 2004, and most are dominated by Republicans state legislatures as well. The biggest Red State loser of them all was my own adopted homeland of Alaska, a sanctuary for Republican nut jobs if ever there was one. Not even free oil money, crazy gun laws and the lack of a state income tax could keep us from losing 51 people per capita in those years. Wyoming? A net loss of 12,500 people, no doubt fleeing all the limousine liberals in Laramie and Jackson Hole. And the Dakotas suffered a net loss of 40,000 people between them, probably because of all the gay marriages and EZ-Stop Abortion Clinics that sprung up following Tom Daschle's re-election in 1998.

Ah well. At least the poor liberals left behind in those states can now imagine their President giving a hand job to a horse. That'll cheer 'em up.